June 16, 1997

On Thursday 13 June the European Parliament (EP) unanimously adopted a resolution urging the European Commission (EC) “not to take action against the act regulating state contracts with companies with or in Burma passed on 25 June 1996 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, under the dispute settlement procedure of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).” The resolution also drew attention to the “policy of complete disregard for human rights” employed by Burma’s military dictatorship and condemned the accession of Burma to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Burma Law of Massachusetts currently bars companies (including European companies) doing business in Burma from receiving local government contracts. New York City, twelve other American cities and one county have also enacted what is termed ‘Selective purchasing’ legislation. The EC is pressuring the United States (US) Government to invalidate the Massachusetts law arguing that it violates a 1995 government procurement agreement sanctioned by the WTO. Should the US fail to repeal the law, the EC threatens to take a formal complaint to the WTO, which would then rule on the dispute.

The EC’s efforts to overturn American local selective purchasing laws against Burma’s military dictatorship have drawn a sharp response from European Burma support groups and American lawmakers and activists. “The EC meddling in American legislative decisions is interfering with the democratic process in the US,” stated Thomas Lansner, an adjunct professor at New York’s Columbia University and member of the New York City Burma Support Group. “We view the EC’s activity as an arrogant dismissal of American public support for Burma’s democrats.”

Yvette Mahon of the Burma Action Group UK said “On May 20, 1997 President Clinton signed an executive order prohibiting new investment in Burma. The European Union would be better advised to set its own house in order and implement its own economic sanctions against Burma. Appropriate multi-lateral action against Burma would render unnecessary such unilateral but laudable acts of conscience as that taken by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

In 1996 American papers reported that the Massachusetts’ law blocked the Dutch Banks ING Barings and ABN AMRO from buying the Bank Boston. Dutch electronics manufacturer Philips ceased export to Burma due to the Burma Selective purchasing Law.

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